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Monday, December 12, 2016

Small Town to Big Time

Kilbourne, Louisiana. Population: 505. Sitting just a handful of miles from the Mississippi River and within “spittin’ distance” of the Arkansas state line, the town is home to Kilbourne High School. The school sponsors just three sports – basketball; baseball; and softball.

Too small to field a football program, and having done away with both the track and field and cheerleading programs in recent years, just the hardwood and the diamond remain on the school’s athletics list.

As one can imagine in a small-town school, many athletes play multiple sports. Such was the case with Lacey Hill, who holds the notoriety of being the first-ever female athlete from KHS to play at the Division I level.

Lacey began her career on the softball field early in life; at age four, she joined a tee ball program in the closest “big town” (population just over 2,000) and thus began a career on the diamond that would go on to span nearly two decades, thus far.

Small Town, Humble Beginnings

Born and raised a ‘Kilbournite’, Lacey attended Kilbourne High from grade school onward. The second of four children, and the only girl, she came from a family of athletes. Lacey’s father Chris played prep basketball and her older brother played multiple sports.

Lacey’s basketball career began far later than her career on the diamond – she didn’t reach the court until age eight, playing in a nine- and ten-year-old league a year early thanks to league rules and by virtue of being the coach’s daughter.

Thanks to the faster pace of play, it would not be long before basketball actually took over as the top sport in Lacey’s life. Once again playing a step above, Lacey joined the varsity basketball team as an eighth-grader and soon established herself as one of the top athletes on the court at any given time.

A Scary Moment

It was the 2013 “Big League” World Series being played in Sussex, Delaware. ESPN cameras were all around, broadcasting the tournament. Lacey was in the circle, pitching for her all-star team. Just another day on the hill, or so it started.

How does the old saying go? “Life can change in the blink of an eye”? For Lacey, it was more like ‘Life can change in the smacking of a line drive’. A hard liner right back to the circle hit her squarely in the face.

Mere millimeters from a bone-shattering, possibly career-ending injury, it instead amounted to little more than a good bit of swelling and a doozie of a black eye. “I was just like ‘Praise Jesus’,” Lacey says. “Because that’s about as close as you can get.”

Onward and Upward

With a small school, one thing is certain: college scouts don’t come. That fact alone almost drove Lacey away from the only school and hometown she’d ever known: “I actually thought about [moving schools] my senior year… this school was like my home, though, so I couldn’t leave. Everything happens for a reason and I’m placed where I am for a reason.”

After making the decision to stay at Kilbourne, Lacey knew that could mean any chance of colleges coming calling could go out the door. But, for the sake of loyalty and with the sense of calm that she was where she was supposed to be, Lacey elected to finish her career at Kilbourne, ‘come what may’.

Lacey, far left
The decision paid off and in unique fashion. “It wasn’t until the summer of my junior year that an umpire stopped me after one of my games,” Lacey says. “She’s a coach for East Central [Community College] and said ‘Have you ever thought about playing college ball?’

“My parents and I weren’t really familiar with the recruiting process and things like that. Because I thought ‘I’m not going to play in college; I’m not that good,” Lacey shares. “But when the coach said that, I said ‘Yes, but I haven’t had any offers’. A visit to the campus later and Lacey was an ECCC Warrior.

Headed to the Bigs

In her two seasons at East Central, Lacey posted forty-six victories in the circle, to go along with a 2.18 career ERA and 316 strikeouts over more than 382 workhorse-style innings.

The girl who came from a school without any speakable female athlete history had earned just two offers coming out of high school, both from two-year colleges, and could have seen her career end there. Enter first-year Southeastern Louisiana head coach Rick Fremin.

“I was sitting in class and [ECCC head coach Kristin Chaney] texted me and told me ‘I need you’,” Lacey recalls. An invitation to Fremin’s camp and a solid performance in an exhibition game against Fremin’s own Southeastern squad the next day cemented the future – once again, a visit and an offer later and Lacey became a Southeastern Lion.

Representing

Want to see Kilbourne High School’s softball career record books? Can’t help you – in large part, they don’t exist. But one name that Lady Hawks softball and basketball players alike will assuredly be hearing about decades down the road is Lacey Hill.

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